Solving a riddle

The Kohl is where the offense is

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MADISON, Wis.—The difference between Wisconsin's 71-59 loss at Michigan Sunday and its 68-45 home win over Penn State Wednesday was palpable.


Sunday, the Badgers struggled to find quality shots against the Wolverines' 2-3 zone, often settling for quick options from the perimeter, tallying just five assists while shooting 38 percent from the floor and a frigid 3 of 20 from beyond the 3-point arc.


Wednesday, against another 2-3 zone, the team had 19 assists on 24 field goals, moving the ball crisply and aggressively attacking the zone, for all but a stretch late in the first half when the Nittany Lions made a run that briefly put them in contention.


"We just can't settle for jumpshots, I think that's what we did a lot of at Michigan. As long as we move the ball around we are going to have more assists," junior guard Devin Harris said.


In the first half, working for high-quality jumpshots was the key, as Wisconsin hit 5 of 11 3-point attempts, including 4 of 6 from Harris, who hit 1 of 10 from that range against the Wolverines.


"They were going in here," Harris said. "They weren't going in in Michigan. Similar shots. Got a little more shots in practice yesterday, (I'm) a little more comfortable here. A lot of the shots touched the post first and then we kicked it out, which as coach (Bo Ryan) preaches is more high-percentage shots."


The Badgers cooled in the second half, hitting just 25 percent (3 of 12) of their 3-point attempts and 38 percent overall. Wisconsin, though, hit the glass, corralling 12 offensive rebounds in the final 20 minutes and converting them into 11 second-chance points.


"We just were really, really poor rebounding the ball tonight out of the zone, which is uncommon cause we worked on it pretty hard and we did a good job of it Saturday (against Illinois) rebounding the ball," Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said. "Tonight we were horrendous at rebounding the basketball and giving up second opportunities."


Harris and junior forward Mike Wilkinson did the bulk of the damage for Wisconsin. Harris finished with 25 points, Wilkinson 14, but that was not all that bad by DeChellis' count.


"I just didn't think we could guard them man-to-man tonight up here," he said. "I just thought they would post up Wade and Owens. We tried to limit their opportunities. We knew Harris was going to score, we wanted to try to limit the other guys and we thought that the zone could do that. And I thought for the most part it did."


Harris' shooting struggles against Michigan—qualified by the fact that he led the team with 18 points—were indicative of the Jekyll and Hyde act that has been Wisconsin basketball on the road versus at home. The Badgers have been flat-out dominant at home, but have struggled to gut out a few victories on the road.


The difference on the stat sheet after the game Wednesday was obvious. What was even more apparent was the Badgers' increased comfort and aggressiveness at home.


"Offensively we knocked down some more shots," Wilkinson said. "We moved the ball pretty well offensively for the most part. We had one stretch at the end of the first half but for the most part we knocked down open shots. If we can do that on the road and just be consistent with it, we are going to be there at the end of the games and then it is just making one play. If you can make the play, you win, if you don't, you lose. That is what a lot of the games come down to in the Big Ten."


Michigan is, of course, a more formidable opponent than Penn State, but Wisconsin also did a much better job solving the zone when the Wolverines used it in Madison.


"I wish I had some of that magic potion," DeChellis said when asked if he had an idea why Wisconsin played so much better at home. "I have no idea. I think it is probably a comfort zone and they're a young team yet too. Young teams play a little bit better at home than on the road."


Harris narrowed it down.


"We get a little tentative on the road," he said.


No such problem at the Kohl Center.

Related stories

Harris, Wisconsin too much for Nittany Lions - game story

Solving a riddle - Wisconsin cracks zone at home

Wisconsin's defense steps up - Badgers contain Jagla, Johnson

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